Two years ago today, the Supreme Court issued a decision in the landmark case, Bostock v. Clayton County, which ruled that that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. While many LGBTQ+ advocates celebrated this decision as a monumental step forward, the question remains whether the lived experiences of real people have truly changed for the better since the ruling. In honor of Bostock’s second anniversary, LGBTQIA Equal Pay Day, and Pride Month, we are taking a deeper dive into the current landscape of workplace discrimination and wage disparities for LGBTQ+ Americans and what we can do to demand equality and justice.
Prior to the Bostock decision, LGBTQ+ people experienced employment discrimination – regardless of sexuality and gender identity. Surveys from 2014 showed that 42 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people had experienced at least one form of employment discrimination. This number is higher with transgender individuals, ranging from 52 to 78 percent. Some of the most common experiences of discrimination reported were harassment, loss of employment, and denial of a promotion. Gay men are paid anywhere from 10 to 32 percent less than straight men with the same productivity in the same job. Transgender people are more likely to be unemployed and report lower annual incomes than average. These employment discrimination effects are exacerbated for LGBTQ+ people of color. This is bad for business, too &ndas; job dissatisfaction can lead to reduced productivity and increased turnover.
These experiences of discrimination, in turn, lead to negative mental and physical health outcomes. The “minority stress model” proposes that prejudice, stigma, and discrimination produces an excessively stressful environment that leads to health disparities between LGBTQ+ people and cisgender heterosexuals. LGBTQ+ individuals have higher rates of psychiatric disorders, depression, psychological distress, loneliness, and low self-esteem. Many of these studies are subject to limitations due to a prevalence of underreporting and the need to hide one’s LGBTQ+ orientation in the workplace for security reasons.
This begs the question: has the Bostock ruling stopped LGBTQ+ people from experiencing discrimination in the workplace? The short answer is that no, it hasn’t. In a survey conducted almost a year after the decision, 9 percent of LGBTQ+ employees still reported that they were fired or not hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This number was higher, nearly 1 in 10, for LGBTQ+ employees of color. In 2021, LGBTQ+ individuals earned less than the typical worker across race and gender identity, and trans women earned only 60 cents for every dollar that the typical worker earns.
So what can we do about this? For one, we must pass The Equality Act (S.B. 393/H.B. 5), which would expand protections to prevent discrimination not only in employment, but also in other important aspects of day-to-day life such as education, housing, and credit. However, laws and court decisions prohibiting discrimination are not enough to stop LGBTQ+ people from experiencing mistreatment in the workplace.
We must demand better enforcement of existing nondiscrimination policies. The Biden administration should put their money where their mouth is and increase funding for agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). This would allow these organizations to refine their enforcement mechanisms and shift into tackling the issue at its roots by targeting likely violators, partnering with community and worker organizations to build trust, and changing the culture to encourage employees holding their employers accountable.
Learn more about the National Partnership’s work with The Equality Act and check out some more of our Pride Month blog posts, from this year and previous years, here: